Sunday Old School: Channel Zero
When you think of Belgium, what comes to mind? Chocolate? Jean Claude Van Damme? The movie, "In Bruges"? There's a lot of history and cultural contributions to be found in Belgium, including today's featured artists, the only Belgian metal band to have sold over 100,000 albums, Channel Zero. The seeds of the band were sewn in a youth club where guitarist, Xavier Carion met Franky De Smet-Van Damme and bonded over their love for heavy metal music. Franky had told Xavier that he had just bought a guitar and the two decided to jam together, though after the first time Franky played his guitar, Xavier told him he was not cut out for it and should play bass instead. Despite their intentions of performing together, Xavier accepted a role in Cyclone, then the biggest heavy metal band in Belgium and Franky was brought on tour as a roadie. It was on this trek that he showed off his vocal skills, performing as a back up singer for two songs. Xavier was so impressed that he quit Cyclone, much to the shock of all who knew how popular the band was, to form a new band with Franky. They searched for a long time to find a drummer and a bass player but to no avail, until one night, members of the hardcore band Sixty Nine knocked on their door. After a few meetings, bass player Tino De Martino and drummer Phil Baheux joined the group, who christened themselves, Channel Zero, after a Public Enemy song.
They recorded their first demo in 1990, which impressed many listeners with its professional quality sound and raw energy and garnered them an offer from the German record company, Shark Records, with whom they released their self-titled debut in 1992 before embarking on a European tour supporting American favourites, Exhorder. Although they had a good time on the road, they soon found out how difficult touring can be, experiencing poor sound amongst other problems, which led to them recruiting a long time fan as their permanent roadie.
A year later, the group released their sophomore full length, "Stigmatized for Life," which Franky claimed represented many of the personal problems he had faced, most dominantly the relationship between himself and his father. The record was not a success and the band themselves were unhappy with the finished product, believing that there was too many riffs on the album amongst other complaints.
Better reviews and sales came in 1995 however, when Channel Zero released their third album, "Unsafe," featuring the opening track, "Suck My Energy," which became a commercial success, earning the band their first appearance on MTV. This was also their first album not to be released through Shark, as the group had broken off their unhappy partnership to sign with Play It Again Sam Records, who promoted the band a lot more than their previous label. The record had more to offer than "Suck My Energy," including guest vocals from Stormtroopers Of Death frontman, Billy Milano and three more singles, "Run W.T.T.," "Help" and "Heroin."
It was also while touring in support of the album that they performed at a major festival for the first time, when they were invited to open the Torhout/Werchter festival after Live dropped out. There was a worry that they would be unable to make it to the gig however, as no-one could find Xavier, who had left for one of his fishing trips and had no means of contact with the outside world. After days of worrying, Xavier's wife went into a nearby village to buy bread where she bumped into her father in law, who informed her that the couple needed to cut their trip short because Channel Zero had been booked to perform at Torhout/Werchter the next day. Despite the hassle of looking for Xavier and their setlist being put together only ten minutes before they went on stage, their performance went down a treat, winning over many of the audience and other bands on the bill, including the legendary rapper Ice-T, who invited Channel Zero to open for his band, Body Count.
Following the release of the hit single, "Help," which was about a friend of Franky's who committed suicide, "Unsafe" reached Gold status in Belgium, making Channel Zero one of the only metal band to accomplish this in their home country. As well as touring with Body Count, they also supported the likes of Megadeth and KISS, whose iconic bass player Gene Simmons was infuriated when he turned his head while on stage to see his girlfriend making out with Phil Baheux. Despite these highs however, the band members were still broke, Franky and Xavier in particular, who were still collecting social security. To help their futures, the band and their manager formed a company which allowed them a monthly paycheck, though they were still not receiving much as record sales proved to be lower than the crowds they performed to.
The band soldiered on however and in 1996, recorded their fourth and by far their most expensive album, "Black Fuel," with producer Jason Corsaro, who had worked with Metallica and Guns N Roses amongst others. The pairing didn't work out however and Dutch producer, Attie Bauw was brought in to replace the American. Franky claims that Bauw was the first person to successfully record the band and bring their live energy into the studio. The title track became another rock hit for the band and the album itself was seen as a musical triumph by the producer, the fans and most of the members, with the exception of Phil Baheux, who was upset when Xavier told him not to bother coming in to mix his drum sound as he would do it, as well as mixing Tino's bass sound. This tension between Xavier and the rhythm section was more fuel to the fire sparked between the disagreements the guitarist was having with Franky regarding the future sound of the band. Despite the unsettled relationships, they agreed to go back on the road with Body Count, though their problems refused to go away and on the last night of the tour in Glasgow, it was decided to lay the band to rest.
Although they had decided to break up, Channel Zero still performed at the 1997 edition of Werchter as well a few small shows afterwards, before releasing a posthumous live album simply entitled, "Live." The musicians went to other projects, most notably Franky's new band, Skitsoy, which was more in the vein of mainstream rock. Like many bands however, they were convinced to reunite and remind everyone in their home country that they had another metal band to be very proud of. In 2010, Channel Zero, minus Xavier, who was unable to take part due to problems with his ears, took to the stage for the first time in thirteen years, performing six sellout shows at the AB Theatre in Brussels. They also released a new single in January of that year entitled, "Black Flowers," before revealing that they were working on a new album, which surfaced the next year under the name, "Feed 'Em with a Brick."
Sadly, "Feed 'Em with a Brick," would prove to be their last album with another seminal member, as Phil Baheux suddenly passed away in August of last year at the age of only 45. The band are currently working on their sixth studio album, which will feature former Soulfly drummer Roy Mayorga, as well as being their second with guitarist, Mikey Doling, himself another former member of Soulfly. Where Channel Zero goes from here without two of their most important elements remain to be seen, though a taste of things to come can be heard with their new single, "Electronic Cocaine," but they will unquestionably leave behind an amazing legacy of sex, drugs and rock and roll which will be around for many more years to come.
Channel Zero - "Run With the Torch"
Channel Zero - "Stigmatized For Life"
Channel Zero - "Suck My Energy"
Channel Zero - "Help/Run W.T.T."
Channel Zero - "Black Fuel"
Channel Zero - "Hot Summer"
Channel Zero - "Electronic Cocaine"
Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.
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